Eldad says what must be said
National religious Israeli voters like yours truly have three choices this coming Tuesday:
Vote for Likud-Beitenu and strengthen the hand of Benjamin Netanyahu, whose party list includes at least six national-religious candidates in realistic spots. The polls are giving them between 32 and 38 seats.
Vote for Jewish Home, so that it would be large enough for Netanyahu to be forced to include it in his coalition government and necessarily stick to pro-settlement, anti-Palestinian state policies. The polls are giving them between 12 and 16 seats.
Or vote for Power for Israel, a small party made up of vehement lovers of the land of Israel and the Jewish nation, and which has been teetering between 3 and 4 seats and the prospect of not passing the blocking percentage at all.
Power for Israel has captured the much disdained corner of Israel’s political map once occupied by “right wing extremists” from Rabbi Meir Kahane to Rehavam Zeevi (both of whom were assassinated by Arabs), to rabbi Benny Alon and Benny Begin, who are considered more moderate (and are very much alive, thank God).
But in the process of taking on the mantle of ultimate right wingers, the two co-leaders of Power for Israel, MKs Michael Ben Ari and Aryeh Eldad have done a lot to make being right wing extremists sound cool and very much in.
Like the time they challenged Tel-Aviv’s wealthy liberals, who support letting illegal workers from Africa stay in the country—as long as they hang around the poor neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv: Ben Ari and Eldad got 50 Sudanese illegals together, bought them bathing suits, and took them into the prestigious Gordon swimming pool off of Dizengoff. The wealthy north-Tel Avivians were irate, they decried the “provocation,” and Power for Israel scored a great point.
Or their latest campaign, “No Duties, No Rights,” which demands—in signs written in Arabic—that Israel’s Arabs start paying taxes, obey traffic laws, submit formal requests for home extensions, and declare their loyalty to the Jewish state. Both leaders taped a video in Arabic stating all these points. The campaign was accused of racism, but the point was made, loud and clear.
I’ve been enamoured with political circuses since 1968, when legendary street theater performers like Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Danny the Red) and Abbey Hoffman used humor and pathos to defeat state systems. The fact that Danny and Abbey were on the left and Michael and Aryeh are on the right is trivial. They’re all good Jews, as far as I’m concerned, teaching the world that a little sense of humor and political conviction can defeat lines of cops in riot gear, and even, on occasion, tanks.
I shudder at the thought that the Palestinians might some day develop a sense of humor. But then I remember Hanan Ashrawi and I know we’re safe for a while.
Still, looking at MK Aryeh Eldad, the last thing that comes to mind is a radical provocateur. His co-chairman, Ben Ari, looks the part, with the salt and pepper hair and beard, the burning, dark eyes and the big mouth, full of teeth. Eldad, in comparison, looks like someone you’d ask to do your taxes.
He comes from radical stock, though. His father, the late Israel Eldad, was a leader in the Lechi underground (the Stern gang, as the British named it). Incidentally, a disproportionate number of today’s leaders in Israel are children of Stern gang members: Tzipi Livni, Yair Shamir, Dan Meridor, Tzahi Hanegbi. Surprisingly, many of them are center-left, if not altogether leftists.
I ask him if, as an ex general (he was chief of the IDF medical corps), and a famous plastic surgeon, he’s not setting foot in political water that’s too murky for someone of his stature.
“You say murky water,” Eldad responds with a glint in his eye, “but my engagement in medicine has taught me that in order to heal one must come in contact with the most repulsive things you can imagine: birthing, draining abscesses. I don’t have the privilege to be spoiled.”
A story that made the rounds a few years ago has Dr. Eldad, then chief of the Hadassah Medical Center Dept. of Plastic Surgery, taking care, free of charge, of a teenage girl from Gaza, who was honor-burned by her family. The girl would come in frequently for follow-up visits. One time she was caught on her way to his Jerusalem clinic, wearing a suicide vest. It turned out that her family told her they would forgive her romantic transgressions if she blew up the doctor who healed her.
Eldad continues with a new medical metaphor: “When I left the post of head of plastic surgery at Hadassah, a very respectable position—I can’t say that it paid a lot, because I never dealt with aesthetic plastic surgery, only burn victims, I never took money from my patients, not one cent, on principle—but when I gave up that prestigious post, it was because I realized that the most efficient kind of medicine is preventive medicine. If you have a hundred shekels, spend it on inoculations, not on antibiotics.
“I knew that I had to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state; that was the mission I gave myself when I ran for the Knesset. It’s my way of preventing burn injuries where they would happen. And they happen in that tough place called the Knesset, where the rules of the game are repulsive, especially during election season.”
SECULAR MAN IN A RELIGIOUS SEA
Many of Eldad’s voters are National Religious or traditional Jews, but he doesn’t wear a yarmulke.
“It’s true that I don’t wear a yarmulke,” he says. “But I observe Shabbat and our home is kosher. My children studied in a national religious school. I live in Kfar Adumim (Judea), and that’s the school we have there. I live in a village with a mix of religious and secular Israelis living together. Had I lived in the U.S. I would have been considered a traditional Jew, not a secular one, or, God forbid, Reform, or Orthodox. But I’m certainly not secular.
“On issues of religion and state, I’ve been enamoured with the Kineret Declaration, which attempted to shape the relationship between state and religion through broad agreements. Ruth Gabison, who was among the founders and the chair of the Civil Rights movement in Israel, has signed that document which included statements regarding Shabbat, for instance, that raised the ire of dedicated secularists.”
The Kineret Declaration of October, 2001, includes 10 items defining the fundamental principles for the state of Israel, the first of which is: “The state of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people.” Item number 9 defines the relationship between the state of Israel and the religion of Israel (subtly avoiding the more common “Jewish religion”):
“…We believe that the Jewish tradition has an important role in public and in the public aspects of civil life, but the state must not impose religious norms on individuals… We are children of the same nation. Our past and our destiny are the same…”
Eldad says he was glad to see Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich endorse the same ideals, when she said, for instance, that she’d be happy to see the absence of work on Shabbat. Not so much from a religious, but from a socialist point of view, decrying how we’ve become slaves without choice who are forced to work seven days a week.
My colleague Stephen Leavitt was still in his year of mourning for his father, and we gathered a group for a Mincha minyan. Eldad took a yarmulke out of his pocket and joined us in prayer. No one in his office appeared surprised.
POWER FOR ISRAEL’S AGENDA
“Besides keeping Illegals from entering Israel and preventing the creation of a Palestinian state, do you any other agenda?” I ask him.
“Preventing the illegal entry is important, and to our delight, after four years of pressure, Netanyahu has given in and erected the security fence,” Eldad responds. “When I proposed a law to build such a fence in the south, the government killed it, telling us, more or less, you’re not going to tell us what to do. Then, a year and a half later, they went about building it, not before some 100 thousand infiltrators had entered our country. But we’re talking not only about building a fence to keep them from entering, we’re also talking about expelling the 100 thousand infiltrators back to their homelands.
“As to preventing the creation of a Palestinian state – that’s an essential component of our platform, but we’re also suggesting an alternative: we’re saying there’s no need to create a Palestinian state, because there already exists a Palestinian state in Jordan, where 80 percent of the residents are Palestinian, by their own definition. And when the Arab Spring reaches Jordan—as it has done in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen, and is taking place now in Syria—and the Hashamite regime will also collapse, then Jordan will become a national Palestinian state not only de facto but also de jure. That will create a new opening out of the current dead end of two states for two peoples west of the Jordan River, in which we’ve been stuck since the Oslo accords.
“The third most important issue is the disloyalty of Israeli Arabs. And here we’ve had a longtime neglect on the part of Israeli governments on the right and on the left, which have been ignoring the extremist expressions of Israeli Arabs.”
A couple of days before our interview, only a few blocks from his office building, an Arab from the Israeli village of Taiba hid a bomb onboard a bus that blew up, injuring many.
“This was a quick response to the Israeli weakness in operation Pillar of Defense,” Eldad argues. “They understood that Israel is making threats but not acting on them. Israel says it would put boots on the ground, enlists 70 thousand reservists, but does not take a decisive step against Hamas. Weakness in the Middle east is like an injured swimmer bleeding out in a sea full of sharks. That shark that blew up the bus arrived there because he smelled the blood in the water, he identified the weakness. In the Middle East, to show weakness is to invite an Intifada, invite attacks, invite terror.”
So, does he want Israeli Arabs to sing Hatikva and swear allegiance to the Jewish state?
“Why not? It’s a minimal expectation of every citizen. And if they don’t like it, let them move to a state with a nicer flag, and let them sing ‘Biladi Biladi’ there until tomorrow (Bilady, Bilady, Bilady, ‘My homeland, my homeland, my homeland,’ is the Palestinian national anthem.).”
Israel was rocked for one news cycle last year, when Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran stood up for the national anthem but did not sing the words. MK Michael Ben-Ari proposed a bill that would require sitting Supreme Court judges to have previously served in the IDF (Joubran, being Arab, was exempt from IDF service), but the bill was rejected.
“We will initiate legislation in the next Knesset, establishing the principle that without duties there are no rights”, Eldad promises. “If a person does not fulfill his duty to be loyal to his country, he will not be entitled to rights.
“We came up with a campaign that picked a few basic words which we suggested it was appropriate for Israeli Arabs to be familiar with, so we wrote them down in Arabic. We talked about loyalty, taxes, permitted highway speeds, traffic laws – things which, sadly, are not accepted by many Arabs as compulsory for every citizen.
“There are 60 thousand illegal structures belonging to Arabs in the Negev, Galilee and Jerusalem. The state of Israel systematically ignores them. The state ignores its own laws. So citizens see there’s no law enforcement, they figure it’s OK to break the law.”
What about the fact that many of the things Power for Israel proposes will inevitably bring on the hostility of Europe and the U.S. How can they shield Israel’s economy from those repercussions?
“It’s impossible to be completely independent in a global economy,” says Eldad. “But anyone who threatens that Israel won’t be able to sell goods, mostly wants to scare us and isn’t presenting true data. Let me give you an example: Israel’s relationship with Turkey is at an unprecedented low. Yet our trade with Turkey stands at $4 billion annually. Meaning, people buy where it pays. They don’t buy from us chips or fruits or knowledge because we’re Jews or because we’re nice to the Arabs.
“There’s a boycott on Israeli goods which affects the fringes. They boycott the settlements, they boycott because we’re Jewish, they boycott because they’re anti-Semites, they boycott because we’re bombing in Gaza, but in the end, they trade with Israel because it pays to buy from us and sell to us.
“If Turkey, whose leadership hates us bitterly, and wants to see us on our knees, has a flourishing trade with us, that should teach us that we shouldn’t let anyone frighten us with such threats. It is conceivable that some day Israel will be in a catastrophic economic situation – but it won’t be because of its foreign policy.”
I ask him about a list of topics that one expects to find on any party platform. Eldad is not fazed.
“Our platform includes ten skeletal points,” he says. “My experience of the last three election campaigns has been that no one really reads those party platforms. We could, of course, present ourselves as potential prime ministers, and state our position on Chemicals for Israel which is digging up the Dead Sea and should, in my opinion, pay higher residuals to the state. And I could add my participation in the committee that dealt with residuals from Israel’s natural gas deposits.
“But, truly, I don’t know a single person who would vote for me and for Michael Ben Ari because we demand, say, that a patient should be entitled to pick the doctor of their choice and their insurance should pay for it.”
MUST HAVE BAD BOYS
I tell Eldad that I want him and Ben Ari in the Knesset because that institution cannot function without bad boys. I don’t want them to be nice, I want them provocative and nasty. And if their third candidate, Baruch Marzel, makes it in, expect fireworks. Marzel has had the honor of being one of the very few Jews to have received preventive detention, a British Mandate invention that’s been used mostly against Arab terrorists.
“It appears that on that count (being bad boys) we possess a drawer full of receipts. We know how to be bad boys,” says Eldad.
Regarding the illegals, some, such as Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky, have been saying that Israel should first educate them and give them skills, so that when they go back home they’ll serve as our ambassadors of good will.
Eldad is not impressed: “There’s this ancient Jewish yearning to redeem humanity. I don’t share it. I don’t yearn for a new Middle East, and not a new Africa. My ambitions center more or less around the Jewish nation and the land of Israel. That’s pretty big, too. We have no business educating there, because as soon as we open schools for them we would be turning 100 thousand infiltrators into permanent residents. Then we’d be strengthening the hands of those who cry out for the poor illegal children, and take picture of those same sad children who have already gone to school here until the eighth grade, and even matriculated…
“We have a situation where the city of Eilat, and South Tel Aviv have been occupied by infiltrators. Walk around Ashdod, and South Tel Aviv, and Eilat, and Arad – people are living in fear over there. People are unable to sell their apartments – even if they wanted to leave, the value of their homes is now zero. They can’t leave because they have nowhere to go. They live in terror, it’s unbelievable.
“People are crying to us every day. The police never responds, unless it’s a case of rape or murder. What about having 50 men in your front yard, defecating in there? It’s not criminal enough for the police to intervene. If they break a window, the cops take down a complaint. And there are a hundred thousand broken windows.
“We are committed to taking care of security, and that includes the everyday sense of security of people who live down south. There are break-ins by Bedouins, by Africans, these are things that can be improved and the state is ignoring them.
“Only if those infiltrators are sent back to where they came from, will the flood stop. I fear that the newly completed fence will only hold sway for a few months until they learn to jump over it or dig a tunnel underneath. After all, they already know they won’t be shot at.
“Someone should start a serious investigation into the infiltration industry. This is a well organized effort that brings in millions of dollars. If we followed the money there, we could put a stop to it. One illegal is captured by Bedouins in the Sinai, and suddenly somebody comes up with $10 thousand to ransom him – it’s a mystery to me, where all this money is coming from.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu has failed to support the settlements many different ways, but one of the more creative ways has been his game of good cop-bad cop alongside Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Barak had the authority over the rights of settlers to rightfully owned homes in many areas of Judea and Samaria, including Hebron, Migron, and Ulpana Hill – all of which ended with the Civil Administration, under Barak’s control, acting against the Jewish owners.
“If Netanyahu had wanted to, he could approve settling the Beit Hashalom in Hebron a long time ago, likewise in Beit Ezra and Beit Hmachpela,” says Eldad. “As well as all the areas in Judea and Samaria where, technically, the orders to approve the settlement is supposed to be signed by the defense minister, but there was never a phone call from Netanyahu urging Barak to sign, because it’s part of government policy. We can’t let Netanyahu escape his responsibility on this issue. He is behind Barak…”
Won’t he also hide behind [former IDF Chief of staff and Netanyahu's current Vice Premier] Moshe Yaalon in the next government?
“Yes, but Yaalon would be in a more delicate spot, not wishing to alienate his own base,” Eldad is hoping.
Except that Yaalon has already played the bad cop for Netanyahu regarding the destruction of the homes in Ulpana Hill in Beit El, and, judging by his success in the Likud primaries (he placed in the top 10) – he hasn’t alienated his base so far. Perhaps it was the tortured way in which he delivered the bad news…
One of the biggest hurdles in the path of the settlement movement has been the Supreme Court, a bastion of the left, which, unlike the way it’s done in the U.S. and most other Western democracies, is largely self appointed. The combination of an anti-settlement high court and an anti-settlement attorney general, acting with the blessing of the defense minister, have led to the last Netanyahu government being the most anti-settler in Israel’s history, even when compared with Barak’s and Peres’s governments.
Eldad wants to see a constitutional high court which is picked solely by the Knesset, which today only gets a third of the nine votes in the appointing committee, one of which belongs to the minister of the judiciary.
Back to our opening math equation: Here’s why I think a vote for Power for Israel is good for Israel:
First: Just as Jewish Home with Naftali Bennett will be keeping Likud-Beitenu honest, Power for Israel will keep Bennett honest.
Second: In the Knesset, a small but highly motivated faction like Power for Israel can deliver—and has done so—important legislation for everybody’s benefit..
And finally: You can’t have a good parliament without street theater.